The fun thing about rooting for a ragtag team of opportunistic glove mavens is that nary a win will go by that fans of the opposition won't blame their own players for the loss. There aren't going to be any "well the Mariners just played better than us tonight"s, but you can bet your bottom dollar there are going to be a lot of "WHO IN SAM HELL TOLD GABE KAPLER TO TAKE SNAPS FROM SECOND BASE WHILE WE'RE PLAYING THE FIELD"s. Some might prefer to see their team get credit for winning, but me, I prefer the double satisfaction of knowing the Mariners won while the other team's fans are humiliated, and from the looks of things, there's going to be a lot more humiliation down the road. To winning humiliatingly!
- Jarrod Washburn has never been my favorite pitcher on the staff, but I have to give him one thing - when he gets amped up during a game, he pitches like it. After his rocky start tonight, he just went lights out, fanning nine of the 29 batters he faced and keeping contained a damn fine lineup. The biggest key was his success against the Crawford/Pena/Iwamura trio of lefties, who combined to go 0-10 against Washburn with six strikeouts and eight runners stranded. Pena had the most trouble, whiffing on five of the seven swings he took. Washburn just had his breaking ball working all night long, and he was able to generate outstanding results.
Three starts into the season, Washburn's numbers look pretty familiar, with the same flyball and strike rates as he's always posted. But if you look at his swinging strike rate, it's up from the 6% he posted in 2006-2008 to 7.1% so far in 2009. It's not much, and this early in the year the difference is statistically insignificant, but he has been missing more bats than we've come to expect, and on the off chance that this is for real, then the implications are positive across the board. Maybe he really did improve his changeup. Maybe he really did sharpen his sinker. Maybe he really did get a better feel for his breaking ball. No matter what's happened, Washburn's been pretty good so far, and tonight he was great. It's funny how games like this almost make me not want to hate him.
- Aside from Jarrod Washburn, the story of the game has to be Gabe Kapler's positioning. A pretty good defensive corner guy with a lot of time in the middle under his belt, he's no stranger to center field, but tonight he just looked all kinds of wrong, and his defense arguably cost Tampa a win. In the bottom of the fourth, he played Rob Johnson alarmingly shallow, and got burned when Johnson hit a liner over his head for a two-run triple. Two batters later, he was playing shallow again when Yuni tripled over his head. Two batters after that he had to sprint backwards to snag an Endy Chavez line drive that would've been routine for a CF in normal position. And then in the eighth, Kapler was playing too shallow and couldn't get a good angle on a Mike Sweeney liner, allowing Sweeney to get to second as the ball rolled towards the wall.
Four clear-as-day examples of one guy starting out in the wrong place. You could make the argument, of course, that it's perfectly justifiable to play shallow when any of Johnson, Betancourt, Chavez, or Sweeney are at the plate, but the difference between shallow and where Kapler was standing is about the same as the difference between where Kapler was standing and second base. He was positioned too aggressively, and the Rays paid dearly because of it. Have I told you how much I love having our outfield?
- You think the coaching staff had a nice long chat with Yuni before the game? Here's his day:
AB#1: Takes two balls, lines 2-0 pitch (strike) for single
AB#2: Takes one ball, lines 1-0 pitch (strike) for triple
AB#3: Takes two balls and a strike, bunts 2-1 pitch
The bunt, though oddly timed, was a nice touch and a clear nod to the coaches, a message from Yuni saying he really has been paying attention and just wants another chance. He's not real comfortable with bunting yet, but with his speed, the team thinks it could be a useful weapon, so we got to see him try to use it in a game situation. Didn't work out, but I doubt Wakamatsu will care very much. He'll see the effort and the taken pitches and commend his shortstop on a job well done. And he deserves it. I didn't want Yuni to start tonight, but he really shaped up.
A shame about that Burrell single that got by him in the fourth. I guess some things are beyond fixing.
- GRIFFEY WATCH '09: 14 team games, three games played in the field, three times replaced in the late innings, zero games played in the field since Ichiro's return. Don Wakamatsu very clearly knows what arrangements are in his best interests. The only thing left to see is whether or not this holds up when Chavez starts to slump, but right now I don't see any indication that Griffey's going to see much time in the field at all.
- As expected, the magnitude of the ovation given when Griffey's announced as the hitter has diminished steadily ever since the home opener. Let's consult a handy chart:
The Griffey ovations haven't yet leveled out, but they're getting close. Even when they do level out, I imagine he's going to get the most applause of anyone on the team, but the minute the slope hits zero is the minute the novelty's worn off, and we're rapidly approaching that point. Pretty soon Griffey's just going to be another player. Another popular player, of course, but no longer a guy we have to welcome back with Crayola love notes sloppily written on posterboard.
- With the number of pitches David Aardsma spikes in the dirt, it's a wonder he ever allows a fly ball.